To be bluntly honest, SniffSnorters, I’m not looking forward to tomorrow much. I’ve had a hectic few days, partly self inflicted when I completely misunderstood when my next tattoo appointment was going to be. Cue 10:30 yesterday morning and I was picking up a Facebook message from my tattooer asking me if I would mind having my appointment moved to a later time that day. Up until then, I had actually thought that my appointment was a month away.
There was a mad scramble when the Chichester Observer photographer came yesterday to photograph us in front of the controversial painting on our shop’s external wall. I felt awkward being positioned in the centre of the photograph and was terribly overwhelmed by the number of customers and blog followers who had turned up for the shoot.
The local media interest arose initially from this blog post of mine, which in one day acquired almost 1000 hits. Personally, I think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. The local newspaper’s interest was further piqued when we received an unannounced visit on Monday by the local Council’s Planning Enforcement Officer. He made the special visit on the basis of the one complaint his department had had about the painting and was there to warn us. Yes. No joke, that was the word he had used. Warn us. When we queried what exactly was he warning us about or even for, the officer was unable to provide any clarification and when pressed, he responded by saying that he would have to consult with his department for the details. We made a point about the hostility and the threat that a word like warn carries and that our art installation was a temporary one, hence not requiring Listed Building Consent. The paint used was water soluble acrylic and would in time wash off.
We also considered the wisdom in sending out officers to visits based on a singular complaint. Just how much does that cost in Tax Payers’ money? And the Planning Enforcement Department’s stance that the painting on our wall is of poor quality? The last time I looked, being an art critic wasn’t within the remit of the Council’s roles and responsibilities. How can a subjective opinion be used to justify a decision to enforce a Council action? Do we decide the worth of a piece of art based on the status of the artist or whichever organisation that endorses it? What makes one art form more valid than another?
But by and by, the point that I really would like to make is just what message is the Council sending out by having their officer enter the premises of a local business and use loaded words like warn? What about engaging with your residents and local business owners in a way that keeps the line of communication open and friendly? What happened to courtesy? Consider what being a public servant should really mean. The painting received, to date as I am aware, ONE complaint. That complainant has been served. I have been led to believe that the Planning Enforcement Department has to date received several emails which were positive about our painted wall. So who will be serving the opinions of these individuals? And the opinions of the 30 odd people who turned up for the photo shoot organised by the local paper? Since when was it alright for a Local Council to seek out to heed only the complaints that fits their agenda?
Some thirty people turned up for that photoshoot. Not necessarily because they love the painting, although I know some of them do. I know of a 3 year old freckled faced little girl who insists on visiting the painting every time she is at our shop. On the whole, they were there because they see the painting for exactly the bit of whimsy that we had intended it to be. A little injection of fun. A harmless quirk.
Common sense is definitely not a flower that grows in every garden. We live in a kingdom where mountains are made out of molehills and vivacity is suffocated by the bindweeds of pencil-pushing. Tomorrow this very subject will be featured in our local newspaper. Until then I choose to remain bemused.